Cop Hater by Ed McBain

Cop HaterJuly 1956, and the city of Isola is suffering from a heat wave. The 87th Precinct are suffering more, though, as detective Mike Reardon, on his way to work, is gunned down. And he’s not the only detective in the killer’s sights…

Steve Carella and the rest of the Precinct are determined to stop the killer before he kills again. But without any real evidence, and with no sign of a motive, every slight lead heads straight down a dead end.

Ed McBain wrote over fifty mysteries featuring the 87th Precinct – I reviewed Lady Killer about eighteen months ago – and, when I saw this one going cheap as an ebook, I figured why not go back to the beginning of the series? Well, was it a good idea?

I’ve just re-read my Lady Killer review and, to be honest, I could cut and paste most of it and it would still apply to Cop Hater.

Oh, quick digression, is the phrase “Cop Hater” something people actually used back in the day? “This guy must be a cop hater” – used in that context a few times but it sounds really odd. Unfortunately, for no reasons other than it sounds odd and it has the same beats as the phrase, it kept putting me in mind of the spoof film “Kick Puncher” that appeared once or twice in Community. Which didn’t help with taking it seriously.

So, as I said, it reminded me a lot structurally of Lady Killer. Plotwise, everyone runs around in circles for about two thirds of the book until the killer makes a mistake – and a pretty major one – and then the author tries something clever late on. To be fair, there is a bit of foreshadowing of the twist, but nothing that would count as a clue – more of a mild hint.

But that’s not the point of the book. For the most part, it’s a police procedural, populated by a convincing set of characters and it does come as a bit of a shock when one of the characters that I assumed was destined to be a regular was gunned down. And the city itself is a real character too, as the all-encompassing heat threatens to swamp everything.

It’s a very readable and enjoyable book, setting the scene for the series without feeling like an overlong introduction to everyone. But…

… the gender politics in it are dreadful. There are, if I recall correctly, four prominent female characters. One runs the local ladies-of-the-night establishment, one is certifiably bonkers and the other two, wives/girlfriends of two of the detectives, are both introduced first and foremost by describing what their… er… assets are like. Indeed Teddy, the deaf-mute girlfriend of Carella, is first encountered playing a dress-up sex game where she has somehow acquired a mock prison uniform with his badge number stitched on it. WTF? To be fair, she gets a better showing later in the book, but even so – it’s like McBain was trying to noir it up a bit, but it comes off leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

Oh, and like Lady Killer, the motive’s somewhat over the top in terms of the pay-off for murdering a number of detectives.

Double oh. There’s a very odd bit in the forensics lab where the techie gives Carella a lesson on how blood typing works. You think he’d know…

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an enjoyable, if rather brief, read, and I’ll stick with the series – hopefully as time passes (McBain was writing these from 1956 to 2003), the more politically incorrect aspects will fade into the background. Recommended, unless you think what I mentioned would annoy you.

If you’d like a second opinion, Sergio, over at Tipping My Fedora, is on a quest to review the whole series – his dedicated page is here.

10 comments

  1. Cheers mate – thanks for the referral and great review by the way, though the girl you are referring to is called ‘Teddy’. I know what you mean about the sexual politics – we are left in no doubt what McBain’s proclivities were when it came to ladies – but hey, it’s a paperback original from the 50s! All the best, Sergio

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      • Yes, I agree (also, in a bit of WordPress weirdness, I had reduced the size originally but it has reverted to its native diomensions so it is very hard to miss – does tend to emphasise the Noir element, does it not …)

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  2. Good point about the gender politics. I’m not sure that does change very much as the series progresses. I’m sure the Fat Ollie’s Book era titles are pretty similar.

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  3. McBain is really popular as of late. I just posted my review of his 1987 novel Tricks.

    Anyway, good review and I will add my two cents when I have read the book, which probably won’t take too long, because I’m officially a convert and have only two of his books (this being one of them) left on the pile.

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    • Sorry for not replying earlier, TomCat, but WordPress decided your comment was spam – I only checked the folder on a whim. I hope it hasn’t lost anyone else’s comments recently!

      For all the flaws, the McBain books have the advantage of being short and I’m often looking for a quick read before heading back to the historical world of mysteries and mayhem. On the other hand, short doesn’t mean cheap as ebooks, so I’ll be keeping an eye out in charity shops, etc, so it might be a while before I get back to the series.

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